Best Cardio Exercises for Staying Fit, Sorted by Age Groups
Domlur, Bengaluru Feb 9, 2017
A few things you will always hear during your journey towards fitness is “amp up your cardio”, “cardio is the key”, “never miss your cardio” and the likes. And, if you’re a newbie it’s quite natural not to understand what all these workout mumbo-jumbos actually mean.
Well, to make things easier for you, cardio is the abbreviated form of cardio-vascular exercises. How is cardio different from the other kinds of exercises you do? Cardio or aerobic exercises require oxygenated blood to be pumped into your body so that the working muscles receive oxygen. This process pumps up your heart, increasing stamina and overall health of your heart and lungs. It also increases endurance and speeds up your metabolism by many folds, which translates into greater fat burn. If you’re doing your cardio right, then your body can even keep burning fat for long hours even after you have stopped working out.
Cardio is extremely beneficial as it improves hormone profile, and also aids in the regulation of blood sugar levels in diabetic people.
However, if you are starting new, it is important to understand the capacity of your body. The way the body of a twenty-year-old will respond is different from how that of a forty-year-old will. Over training or exceeding your body’s natural capacity can have negative effects. The idea is to start light and then gradually push yourself as your body builds greater endurance until you become this fitness giant who can take on any workout challenge.
Before we delve deeper into the subject let’s understand which exercises qualify as cardio. Basically, it includes every movement that gets your heart pacing – walking, running, swimming, skipping, cycling, even boxing.
At twenty, your body is at its natural best. It can take abuse like no other, it can also endure like no other. So if you’re starting your fitness journey in your twenties you can afford to be absolutely fearless. The suggested distribution of your workouts should be something like thirty minutes of cardio along with strength training three times a week punctuated by three days of only cardio for about one hour. Unless you have serious fitness goals, one hour of training every day is good enough. One day should be kept for rest and recovery.
In your twenties, you should rely less on machines for cardio. Ditch the treadmill and go for a real sprint. Or, even if you prefer the treadmill, throw real challenges at your body – increase the incline, switch speeds frequently to keep your heart going and run fast. However, be cautious of your knee as too much of training on the treadmill have reportedly caused joint problems in people.
You can mix up cardio and strength training to form compound moves which will burn more fat. If you’re doing squats with weights, switch to jump squats with light weights. But, start slow and then go all in. You would want to push your body, not shock it.
By thirties, you have abused your body well enough, if you didn’t get into the habit of exercising at twenties that is. So now it’s time for damage control. Further, once you reach thirty, the basal metabolism rate drops and you will find it harder to lose weight. At this point, your body is no longer capable of taking three days of one-hour long cardio. So, your best bet is to do an hour long combination of cardio and strength training five times a week, one day of an hour-long cardio training and one day of rest. To maximize the effect of your cardio, you could try doing HIIT at least once a week. HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is a kind of cardio workout where you alternate high speed and low speed at regular intervals. For example, instead of sprinting for thirty minutes straight, switch between walking for a minute, jogging for the next minute and sprinting as fast as you can for the next one minute and then switch back to walking for a minute. This process challenges your heart and consequently has a greater effect on your system.
When you reach the forties, you start noticing drastic changes. At this point, your body has lost some of its lean muscles and grown more prone to putting on fat. Even people who never had weight related problems will begin noticing a girdle starting to develop around their waists. At this point, your body needs exercise that is effective yet not too harsh on your system. If your fitness level is high enough, then you could opt for HIIT thrice a week followed by a combination of cardio and resistance training thrice a week, and one day rest. If you are unsure of your fitness level, the safest yet most effective cardio exercises to stick to are cycling, cross-training, rowing, swimming and light jogging. Do not run on the treadmill if you have knee problems.
Nifty Fifties and after
Fifty onwards your body changes completely. Things that you could digest before don’t get digested so easily anymore. You feel more lethargic than earlier. Women are usually going through a phase of menopause causing hot flush and random changes in their hormonal system. Every organ in your body is a little less powerful now as compared to before and your immune system is not so strong either due to a shrinking thymus gland. Therefore, in your fifties, your primary objective is to build endurance and immunity and prevent serious health issues. Along with exercise a lot of attention needs to be paid to your diet.
For cardio workouts, swimming, jogging, walking and steppers are great for you at this time. Do thirty minutes of cardio along with strength training thrice a week and only cardio on the other three days.
Cardio workouts don’t always have to be gym-centric. Any kind of outdoor sport does qualify as a cardio workout in itself as it pumps up your heart. So if you are into tennis or badminton, increase the intensity just a little and you will be good to go. Squash is an excellent cardio sport that sharpens your focus while conditioning your body. If you have the necessary place and equipment and if you can get into a habit of playing squash then nothing like it!
After High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT, another great training style you can incorporate into your cardio programme is circuit training. Circuit training is an exceptionally beneficial training method if you are looking to get lean. Circuit training is a method where you take a set of exercises, perform a few repetitions of each one after the other. For example, if you want to perform a circuit that targets your glutes, a perfect circuit would consist of fifteen repetitions of squats, and fifteen of lunges, repeated thrice. So if you have to do a cardio circuit you could mix ten minutes of two kinds of cardio workout repeated thrice. A cardio circuit will keep you on your toes, challenge your body as it does not allow room for adaptation and get you more benefit in less time.
There is one other method of workout that can maximize your cardio output – kettlebell training. Kettlebells, an ancient Russian art of bodybuilding, mixes motion with weights. This particular equipment challenges the body to build endurance and stabilize itself at the same time. If you do dynamic movements with kettlebells of just the right weight, the effect it will have on your body is similar to what cardio will have. Kettlebell swings, Turkish get up, windmills are such three movements. Kettlebell workouts are especially good because they condition your entire body. For women, six to eight kilograms is a good weight to workout with, and for men, it would be between ten to fifteen kilograms. However, though kettlebell is probably one of the best kind of heart beat increasing workout, it can do terrible things for your body if done wrong. Therefore, perform kettlebell workouts only under the proper supervision of someone qualified in training.
Having said all of the above, fitness is but twenty percent exercise and eighty percent nutrition. So all your cardio workout and strength training will only have any effect on your body if you provide your body with the right kind of nutrition. No, pasta in white sauce does not count! As a rule of thumb, always count nutrition rather than calories. Having one bowl of pasta through the entire day will obviously give you fewer calories than when you have three meals in the day, but give you more fat than proteins or carbohydrates. Your diet needs to always contain two-fourths of carbohydrates, one-fourth of proteins, and one-fourth of fat.
A healthy diet and a cardio programme best suited for your age group on regular basis will get you fit quickly and keep you healthy all your life.